The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Nehemiah 8:2-4,5-6,8-10 + 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 [or 12:12-14,27] + Luke 1:1-4;4:14-21
January 23, 2022
Now the body is not a single part, but many.
Today’s Gospel passage begins with the first four verses of Luke. It’s from St. Luke’s prologue, in which he gives his rationale for you to listen to his Gospel account.
In this prologue, Luke mentions many members of the early Church. But he only mentions one by name: Theophilus, for whom St. Luke compiled his Gospel account. Why does he mention these persons? He mentions them in order to put his account of the Gospel within the context of the Church.
Sometimes you’ll hear of Christians—especially our separated brethren—calling Christianity a “religion of the book”, the “book” in question being the Bible. However, while the Bible lies at the heart of our Christian Faith, Christianity does have a more primary foundation on this earth, and that is the Church. Christianity is more truly a “religion of the Church” than it is a “religion of the Book”. To be clear: it’s not that the Bible is not at the heart of the Faith, but rather that we need to put the horse before the cart.
Jesus founded the Church, but He did not write the New Testament. He left that job to the apostles. The writing of the New Testament was part of the mission that began on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus founded His Church such that it’s marked by four essential qualities. The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. It’s because the Church is apostolic that it could create the New Testament.
Of the 27 New Testament books, tradition considers 25 to have been authored by apostles. The two books not authored by apostles are the Gospel accounts of Mark and Luke. Yet even these two books have apostolic origins, for St. Mark was a disciple of St. Peter, and St. Luke was a disciple of St. Paul.
The Bible came from the Church, rather than the Church growing from the Bible. Fifty-two days before Pentecost, at the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the ordained Priesthood. All the fundamentals of our Catholic Church were already in existence decades before the first book of the New Testament was written.
It’s in light of this that St. Luke the Evangelist points out in his prologue that “just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed [the events of Jesus] down” by word of mouth, so Luke himself in turn decided to write his Gospel account “down in an orderly sequence”. Why does St. Luke do this? He tells us: “so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
The Bible did not fall out of the sky, bound in leather. The Holy Spirit, who is the primary author of Sacred Scripture, chose ordinary Christians in those first decades of the Church to pass on by word of mouth the words and works of Jesus. In the twenty-first century, we’re blessed to have free access to Scripture, general literacy, and study guides written by faithful Catholic Scripture teachers.
Nonetheless, we should not forget that the original means of handing on the Good News was Christians sharing the Gospel by means of sharing their experiences of being disciples. This process of oral tradition occurred many times before the first word of the New Testament was ever written down.
This process of the Word of God taking shape in the New Testament by means of tradition teaches us an important lesson about the Church. Being a Christian is not just about “me and Jesus”. Being a Christian means recognizing that our own lives are bound up with the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, more often than not, flows into your life through the Communion of Saints: that is, through your fellow members within the Body of Christ. This is by God’s design.
God promises to give us always the grace we need to face any situation. Unfortunately, sometimes we refuse His grace because we refuse the means by which He wills to give us that grace. Within the body of the Church, God strengthens us through each other. How many members of your parish family do you not yet know? How many of them does God want to use as your brothers and sisters in Christ in order to bear His grace to you, and vice versa?